These athletes will acrobat, with their flips of need almost as fast as shutter photo speeds, at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland. Opened in 2013, by Tartan Terror Rod Stewart, this edifice is now ranked #2 for its great show capabilities.
When gymnastics was chronicled in the 5th century BC, by Greek historian Herodotus, nobody cared about that accolade but it is fitting that the sport nowadays whose floor routines, from paper to performance, take time and big bucks to put together - mesh and meet with the SSE Hydro, a construction that was 10 years in the planning.
Every athlete and coach is emphasizing this fine competition to the nth degree as it is the spring board to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Speaking of fine, let’s look at what makes Kohei Uchimura, going for his SIXTH CONSECUTIVE ALL AROUND TITLE, tick. Physically, he’s 5’3” and 121 pounds. Many think he’s cute. He’s got a funky, not foppish, haircut. He’s got air sense (to go with hair sense) and invariably sticks his landings. He does the triple twisting double layout highbar dismount Ferchencko like nobody’s business. The All Around titles he’s racked up – again, like nobody’s business, consist of six events: Floor, Pommel Horse, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, and Horizontal Bar.
With Kohei, describing his skills as “sick” is laudatory.
His favorite event: the Pommel Horse, because it’s the easiest on his body. His least favorite: Vault.
Nevertheless, for all, he makes the difficult look easy. He started gymnastics when three, at his dad’s gym. He admits to being stubborn once his mind is made up. His body control, his overall poise, astounds.
Now, are his medal counts unsurpassable? Is he the best male-gymnast now and forever? Can he lead Japan to his first TEAM gold medal in Scotland? And for how long will he compete? Pommel horse judge, Steve Butcher, thinks he has two more Olympics in him.
Now, gymnastically, he can’t be scored a perfect 10. That stinks. But he isn’t, outside of gymnastics, perfect. That’s sweet.
Kohei, which means either peaceful flight or crossing the Pacific Ocean, depending on the source, doesn’t like vegetables. He really likes a chocolate bar called Black Thunder. How many wannabe extraordinary athletes will see those preferences as evidence that one doesn’t have to be ideal in diet, or in any other way, and still achieve superstar status? Although his nickname is Superman, apart from his feats in gymnastics, he can be related to, he’s tangible, and he’s human - although most of us have not had our image put on the outside of a Japanese 777 airplane.
Let’s get back to earth for a moment. How does Team USA Mens’ chances fare this 2015? In the 2014 showing they came third, behind second-place Japan and winner China. They’ll be led by Sam Mikulak. He’s got a bit of a win streak himself going, winning the US All Around these last three years. He won the All Around at this summer’s Pan Am Games. On September 8th he tweeted a video of his prowess on the rings, so he seems to be peaking. He has even bested Uchimura in one respect, starting into gymnastics at two.
One big controversy, however, surrounds the Mens...they left Jake Dalton, the only American to win individually in both the 2013 and 2014 Worlds off the team. He won silver in the Floor in 2013 and won a bronze in the Vault in 2014. Yes, he just had fluid drained from a cyst in his shoulder labrum, and yes the team selection committee was worried about his recovery time, but, geez, give the guy a couple weeks to prove he’s fit. The team owed him that. Nevertheless, officials feel having the team declared 10 weeks before Glasgow was the way to go.
We’ll see. A lot can go wrong in that time. With a team made, the pressure is released. They’ll either thrive because of it, or dive, fail to hit their highest possible marks.
But if the men flop, the States shouldn’t fret and freak too much. Their star woman gymnast, Simone Biles, is going for her 3rd consecutive All Around victory. And a 50-second routine of hers on the uneven bars is as eventful and as scary to watch as is Tiger Woods’s golf game of late. It is, though, much more successful.
However, no matter the individual, team, or gender, gymnastics is unique in its varied competitions and in participants’ risk - and fear - of injuries. This sport is not for the faint of heart or fancy dan who wants to try their hand at this, or that. For many years, eating disorders amongst teenage girl gymnasts garnered headlines. Gymnastics, at least Womens, was looked upon as a cruel enterprise with domineering coaches lording it over their diminutive waifs.
And many will scoff that it isn’t even a sport, it is a contest. Judges rule. The reality is - there’s no impartiality.
But in this one fact, we are all of one opinion. This World Gymnastics Championships has never had so many competitive combatants ready to be awarded as the elite of the elite in a sport renowned for its agility, flexibility and ALL ROUND ability.
All it needs now, for perfection, is to bring back the perfect score of ten.
After all, that’s Kohei Uchimura’s calling.